Albion Monitor /Commentary

Nike: Image and Reality

by Jim Hightower

You're fired if you're "too old" -- by which they mean over 25
There's a country song in which a jilted lover laments: "I bought the shoes that just walked out on me."

Well, if you buy Nike shoes, you're buying the ones that literally walked out on American shoemakers, having run-off to Asia to do all of its manufacturing. There's no romance in Nike's corporate heart though -- it fled to Asia out of sheer greed, wanting to exploit cheap labor there.

Wait a minute, wails Philip Knight, Nike's billionaire honcho, who wants to have it both ways -- he wants to exploit workers without being called an exploiter. Knight claims that his Nike "Code of Conduct" requires that its Asian shoemakers be treated fairly and paid at least the minimum wage of the countries in which they work.

Ha! Phil should visit some of his factories to see how his code is working. Not a pretty sight. Two Hong Kong human-rights research groups did visit four Nike plants in China's Pearl River Delta and issued these findings:

  • China's legal minimum wage is $1.90 a day for eight hours of work, but Nike workers are paid a pitiful $1.20 a day -- not enough to cover such basics as food and decent shelter.
  • Mostly girls and young women, Nike's Chinese shoemakers are crowded 12 to a room in dorms, sharing one bath. They must work compulsory overtime that routinely results in 70-hour weeks. If they protest, they're fired.
  • Working conditions in Nike's factories are out of the Dark Ages -- unbearable heat, noxious fumes and dust, no talking during work, beatings by security guards and a rush-rush assembly line that commonly causes the women to lose fingers and even hands in the machinery.
  • China's laws require that pregnant workers get maternity leave ... but at Nike, if you're pregnant, you're fired. You're also fired if you're "too old" -- by which they mean over 25.
Next time you see one of Nike's feel-good image ads ... picture the reality of how it treats its women shoemakers in China.

Comments? Send a letter to the editor.

Albion Monitor November 3, 1997 (

All Rights Reserved.

Contact for permission to reproduce.

Front Page